Wildcats are Britain’s only Critically Endangered mammal. Following centuries of intensive predator control, wildcats are now protected but restricted to a population of about 200 individuals living in low productivity habitat in the Scottish Highlands, where they are threatened principally by hybridization with domestic cats. This project will investigate the potential for, and challenges to, wildcat recovery and restoration outside of their current Scottish refugium, to their former range in Wales and England.
The student will undertake interdisciplinary work towards understanding the ecological and social feasibility and practicalities of wildcat restoration. They will conduct qualitative studies of the challenges of reconciling wildcat conservation with the interests of domestic cat owners, and of potential conflict with farming and shooting interests. Quantitative studies will address the suitability of source populations of wildcats (including captive-breeding), population viability, landscape suitability and means of managing hybridization. Their academic aims will include building a social-ecological network around conservation of iconic species in contested landscapes, alongside delivering applied outcomes of protocols and practices towards reintroductions.
The student will work with partners at The Vincent Wildlife Trust (www.vwt.org.uk), who have recently led the successful restoration of pine martens to Wales, and global conservation leaders, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (www.durrell.org). Project supervisors are Professor Robbie McDonald of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute (http://www.exeter.ac.uk/esi/people/profile/index.php?web_id=Robbie_McDonald), Dr Steve Carter of the Vincent Wildlife Trust and Dr Rich Young of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Renowned conservationist Professor Carl Jones will be a project advisor.